"I'm here if you want to talk."
"Call me if you need me."
"Let me know if there's anything I can do."
We've probably all said these words. We've probably all heard these words. Hopefully, when we say them, we do mean them. But when we hear them, do we really believe them? And do we ever act on them?
I'd say the majority of time, we take these words with a pinch of salt. However distraught we are, we're not going to wake our hard-working friends from their slumbers when we're having a meltdown at 3am. Possibly out of the politeness that's been bred into us, possibly due to not wanting to seem a burden.
But also, very possibly, because depression can be so crushing it renders you mute. Incapable of communicating. Spiralling so rapidly into darkness that even uttering 'Hello' down a phone line without breaking into huge, ugly, loud sobs seems like a superhuman task. Caught up so badly in a moment of despair that even forming words into a coherent text message is beyond you because your hands are shaking so badly. So panicked, so blinded by this explosion of blackness that it's all you can do to sit, and cry, and freak out.
That's where phrases like the above are worse than useless.
Because when depression strikes, when you really do NEED someone, anyone, anything to help you get through this, it takes your ability to ask for that help away. You can't call, ask, shout. Because you're already too far gone.
And that's where it's dangerous to always put the onus on the sufferer to seek out those who will support them. Of course no one can be telepathic and magically intuit when their loved one is about to suffer a fit of crippling blackness, but waiting for them to come to you is also no solution. And I know we all do it. We're all busy, preoccupied, staring at 'To-do lists' on which the task 'Call Friend X' sits for aeons and is never actually done. We're all self-centred, self-obsessed, wrapped up in our own trivias and dramas and relationships and careers. We think, well, Friend X will surely get in touch if they need me that badly, won't they?
But they won't.
Or at least, I know that when I'm in the position of Friend X, I can't.
Because I'm too busy crying and panicking and thinking the unthinkable.
And by the time you're thinking the unthinkable you're pretty much at a point where you've stopped believing anyone cares about you anyway.
That's the trap of 'Call me if you need me'. We throw it out to assuage our consciences, to assure us that we've done our part as friend/lover/relative/carer. We think we've handed over a voucher that our loved one knows they can cash in any time. But we've really just handed them a vague, ambiguous half-promise that floats off into the ether when faced with an actual, concrete crisis. I know I'm guilty of it, and I try to check myself when I feel I'm about to do it, to at least ascertain 'Do I really mean this? Would I really be there for that person at any time, and listen to them?', so that even if what I'm saying is so clichéd and lame, it is actually meant rather than idly flung out. But I know that's hardly enough. There's saying it, there's meaning it, and then there's actually doing something to demonstrate you mean it. Active love, rather than passive waiting.
So if you know someone who suffers from depression, don't wait for their call. Call them. And then call them again tomorrow, next week, and keep on calling. Keep checking in. One instance of contact isn't enough - one gesture does not reassure, but a string of them might. Don't be shy, embarrassed, afraid. Don't worry about what to say. None of that even matters. Just hearing your voice may well be enough.
Enough to catch them before they fall.